Arranged marriages have been around for quite a while. Not only has this form of marriage stood the test of time, even today in large parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, a significant proportion of all marriages are arranged. Consequently, social scientists of all stripes have sought to study the intricacies of arranged marriages. In fact, to commemorate 1994 as the international year of the family, the UNESCO commissioned a large study on the changing family in Asia (Atal, 1992). Arranged marriages received a considerable amount of attention in this study.
This popularity of arranged marriages notwithstanding, economists have been interested in systematically analyzing marriages only since Becker (1973). Further, this interest has largely been restricted to the study of marriage in western societies in a deterministic setting. The fact that interpersonal communication processes in western “love” marriages are different from those used in arranged marriages is not in dispute. However, beyond recognizing this simple fact, economists have contributed very little to our understanding of the nature of interpersonal communication in arranged marriages.
Given this state of affairs, this paper has three objectives. First, we formalize the traditional interpersonal communication process in arranged marriages. The reader should note that this formalization is an attempt to capture those aspects of interpersonal communication that are common to arranged marriages in many different parts of the world. Consequently, it is unlikely that our formalization will capture every aspect of interpersonal communication in a specific arranged marriage. Second, we analyze the properties of this interpersonal communication process from the perspective of a marrying agent.
Finally, once again from the perspective of a marrying agent, we study the likelihood that the use of this interpersonal communication process will result in the agent finding the right partner for himself or herself. The rest of this paper is organized as follows: Chapter 2 provides a review of the literature and an overview of an interpersonal communication process that fits a wide variety of arranged marriages. Chapter 3 studies a formal model of interpersonal communication based on the discussion in Chapter 2, and then compares the findings of this paper with the extant literature on arranged marriages in anthropology and sociology.
Chapter 5 concludes and offers suggestions for future research. Hypothesis Marriage proposals are more likely to be received in certain time intervals in a marrying agent’s lifetime; one can let the rate at which marriage proposals are received by the agent’s well-wishers be a function of time. Arranged marriages are based on the assumption that because of a variety of reasons such as imperfect and incomplete information (Goode, 1963, p. 210), and the tendency of young people to seek pleasure (Auboyer, 1965, p. 176), young persons generally cannot be relied upon to find a suitable partner for them.
Consequently, parents, relatives, friends, and increasingly matchmaking intermediaries (hereafter well-wishers), take upon themselves the task of looking for a suitable bride. While in western societies, the agent wishing to marry generally looks for a partner himself, in an arranged marriage this important task is generally not undertaken by the agent but by his well-wishers. The reader should note that this is a fundamental difference between arranged marriages and marriages in western nations. The second germane aspect of arranged marriages concerns the marrying agent’s decision.
As Blood (1967, p. 55), Rao and Rao (1982, p. 32-33), and Applbaum (1995) have noted, in modern arranged marriage settings, the agent wishing to marry has considerable autonomy over the actual marriage decision. In the words of Blood (1967, p. 11), while well-wishers look for apposite marriage prospects, the agent is “given an explicit opportunity to veto the nominee before negotiations are pursued. ” This agent receives marriage proposals as a result of the investigative activities–such as the placement of newspaper advertisements–that are undertaken by his well-wishers.
In essence, the agent’s problem is to decide which marriage proposal to say yes to. Recently, Batabyal (1998, 1999) has analyzed stochastic models of interpersonal communication in arranged marriages. Batabyal (1998) shows that a marrying agent’s optimal policy depends only on the nature of the current marriage proposal, independent of whether there is recall of previous proposals. In Batabyal (1999), it is shown that the marrying agent’s optimal policy involves waiting a while, and saying yes to the first marriage proposal thereafter.
In both these papers, the marrying agent’s decision problem is modeled in a way that precludes considerations of age at marriage. Put differently, in these papers, the marrying agent follows an optimal policy; however, in following this policy the agent does not care when in his lifetime he gets married. This is at odds with empirical facts. For instance, data for Japan discussed in Blood (1967), and for India discussed in Mullatti (1992), suggest that virtually all marriages are completed by the age of 35 for men and 30 for women.
Given this situation, an objective of this paper is to explore the generality of some of Batabyal’s previous results, when the marrying agent has in mind a specific age by which he would like to be married. Consider an agent who wishes to be married by a particular age, say “,” years of age. This agent has a utility function that is defined over marriage proposals. The utility function consists of a deterministic part and an additive stochastic part. The deterministic part is known to the marrying agent and to his well-wishers. The additive stochastic part is known only to the marrying agent.
This is intended to capture the idea that well-wishers generally have a good but not perfect idea about the agent’s preferences regarding his choice of marriage partner. As indicated in the previous Chapter, the agent’s well-wishers engage in activities that result in the receipt of marriage proposals. We suppose that these proposals are received in accordance with a Poisson process with a fixed rate beta. Upon receipt of a proposal, these well-wishers bring this proposal to the marrying agent. When a proposal is brought to the agent, this agent can either say yes to the proposal or reject it and wait for additional proposals.
If a particular proposal is rejected by the agent, then his well-wishers will bring a subsequent proposal to the agent only if they believe this proposal to be of higher quality. Further, our marrying agent knows that his well-wishers will act in this manner. Consequently, in a stochastic sense, the marrying agent’s objective is to say yes to the last proposal that is received before time T. To see this, recall that our agent’s total utility is the sum of the deterministic part, which is known to the agent and to his well-wishers, and the stochastic part, which is known only to the agent.
Consequently, this agent’s total utility is a monotonically increasing function of his deterministic utility. It is in this sense that the last proposal is the right proposal. Now suppose that in order to accomplish this objective, our marrying agent decides to wait a while, and then say yes to the first proposal that is brought to him. Is this a desirable strategy? How long should the agent wait before saying yes? In particular, if our agent uses this strategy, what is the likelihood that he will accomplish his objective? These are the questions that remain to be answered.
However, before we answer these questions, let us first discuss the tradeoff that confronts our agent. If this agent acts too quickly and says yes to a proposal that is brought to him at time t, t is an element of [0, T], and a subsequent proposal could have been brought to him in the interval (t, T], then the agent will not have made the best possible choice. On the other hand, if the marrying agent rejects proposals and waits too long, and no additional proposals are brought to him by time T, then the agent will have failed in his mission to be married by the time he is T years of age.
A question that arises now concerns the fate of rejected proposals. More specifically, should it be possible to recall a previously rejected proposal? Our reading of the relevant literature tells us that in most arranged marriage settings, it is normally not possible to recall previously rejected proposals. Further, Batabyal (1998) has already analyzed the effects of recall on the decision to say yes in an arranged marriage. Consequently, in what follows, we disallow the possibility of recalling a previously rejected proposal. Let us now answer the questions that were posed at the end of an earlier paragraph.
Suppose our agent decides to wait for w units of time, before saying yes to a marriage proposal that is brought to him. Obviously, w is an element of [0, T]. Our task now is to express the agent’s objective mathematically. Recall that if a particular proposal is rejected by the agent, then his well-wishers will bring a subsequent proposal to the agent only if they believe the proposal to be of higher utility. This means that the probability of being successful with the above described strategy is equal to the probability that only a single proposal is brought to the agent in the time interval [w, T].